Archive for February 2016

Pat Misch Going to Japan

February 29, 2016

A former San Francisco Giant I like to keep track of is Pat Misch, a left-handed pitcher with modest stuff indeed, but who has used his ability to pitch as far as it will reasonably go.  He has just been released by the Brewers organization to sign a one-year $550,000 contract with the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s NPB.

I’m by no means sure that Misch has enough left at age 34 to succeed in NPB, which is better than any league Misch has pitched in since he last pitched in the majors in 2011.  He pitched pretty well at AAA New Orleans last year, but was released in July.  He then signed to play in the Independent-A Atlantic League, where after only two starts he then moved on to Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League, where he pitched well in what was an extreme hitters’ league in 2015.

What Misch did in Taiwan, however, was throw a no-hitter in the deciding Game 7 of the Taiwan Series, the first time that feat had been accomplished in  the 25+ year history of this championship series.

Japanese teams like North American players who have proven they can play in an Asian League, even if, as is the case with the CPBL, it’s not a particularly good league.  Misch, of course, will have to perform well immediately for Orix, or he won’t last long in Japan.  I’ll definitely be routing for him.

Advertisements

Independent-A League Stars to Watch in 2016

February 27, 2016

Every year I like to do a piece about Independent-A League players who played so well the past year they may have the opportunity to move on to bigger and better things, particularly if they are still reasonably young.  I have a crop of these guys this year too, but I will note from the outset that almost no one really jumped out at me this year, as at least a couple usually have in past years.

Atlantic League

The Atlantic League is the undisputed top Independent-A League in North America.  It plays a  140-game schedule, roughly equal to AA and AAA, and attracts the top talent that can’t find jobs in the MLB system.

However, this year no one on either side of the ball really impressed me in terms of age and level of performance.  The most promising player I found is probably Buddy Boshers, who will be 28 this year, already over the hill in terms of professional baseball players as a group.

Boshers was good enough to pitch in 25 games for the Angels in 2013, but a bad performance in AAA in 2014 got him cut out of the MLB system.  In 2015, he had a 1.00 ERA with a pitching line of 54 IP, 39 hits and 14 BBs allowed and 71Ks.  He’s still young enough that an MLB team could sign him and send him to AA or AAA to see if the Angels gave up on him too soon.

Ron Schreurs (23 in 2016).  A player orginally from Curacao, he had a 2.55 ERA in relief with 25 Ks in 24.2 IP.  The low innings pitched total suggests he had arm problems going into or coming out of the 2015 season.

Telvin Nash (25).  Nash, a 1B/LF, has major league power but strikes out way too much.  He hit .270 with a .908 OPS in half an Atlantic League season.

American Association

The American Association is generally regarded as the next best Indy-A League, and players who play well in this league who don’t sign with an MLB organization typically move up the Atlantic League the next season.

Tyler Alexander (24) ranks as my top prospect in this league, because he’s young and pitched quite well, with a 3.31 ERA and 111 strikeouts (4th) in 111.1 innings pitched.  He’s a left-hander who’s a little wild, but he deserves another shot from an MLB organization.

John Straka (26) had a 3.27 ERA with 110 Ks (5th) in 127.1 IP.  My guess is he moves up to the Atlantic League in 2016.

Patrick Johnson (27) is getting up there in age for this level, but he went 15-1 with a 2.08 ERA (3rd) with 132 Ks (2nd) in 134 IP.  Even more impressively, he’s been one of the top pitchers in the Venezuelan Winter League this off-season, with a league leading 1.57 ERA in ten starts with 46 Ks (4th) in 51.2 IP.

Johnson may have suffered an injury late in the VWL season, as he didn’t make an appearance after December 2nd.  He’s a small right-hander listed at 5’10” and 170 lbs, which certainly hurts his chances of signing with an MLB organization.  If he can continue to pitch the way he did in 2015 going forward, he could potentially pitch in Asia one day.

John Brebbia (26) and Rob Wort (27).  Two not particularly young relievers who had terrific seasons.  Brebbia posted an 0.98 ERA with a pitching line of 64.1 IP, 34 hits and 15 walks allowed and 79 Ks; while Wort had a 1.79 ERA and a pitching line of 65.1 IP, 35 hits and 26 walks allowed and 92 Ks.

Christian Ibarra (23).  Hit .278 with an .853 OPS in 58 games.

Carlos Fuentes (23).  3.38 ERA with 43 Ks in 45.1 IP.

Can-Am League

In years past, the Can-Am League has generally been regarded as about equal to the American Association.  However, attendance in the Can-Am League isn’t nearly as good, which one would think will eventually effect that league’s ability to compete for talent.

However, the Can-Am League seemed to have plenty of talent in 2015, although it may have something to do with the fact that with only six teams, the better players may stand out more.

Joe Maloney (25).  A 1Bman who can play the corner outfield positions and even catcher in an emergency, Maloney hit .337 (2nd) with 14 HRs (4th) and led the league  by a wide margin with a .991 OPS.  Were Maloney to move up to the Atlantic League this year and continue to hit, he could definitely have a future in Asia.

John Walter (25).  Walter had a 3.08 ERA (4th) with a league-leading 127 Ks in 120.1 IP.  Listed at 6’5″ and 225 lbs, he’s got a major league pitcher’s body.

Gabriel Perez (25).  Perez had a 2.90 ERA (2nd) with 109 Ks (2nd) in 108.2 IP.

Brian Ernst (25).  Ernst had a 2.96 ERA (3rd) with 100 Ks (Tied 5th) in 109.1 IP.

Ryan Bollinger (25).  Bollinger had a 3.68 ERA and 108 Ks (Tied 3rd) in 127.1 IP.

Leandro Castro (27).  Castro batted .322 (6th) with 13 HRs (Tied 5th).  He’s old to be a prospect at this level, but he played in 234 games in the AAA International League in 2013-2014, he can play center field, and he runs well (21 stolen bases in 23 attempts against the Can-Am League’s admittedly not very good catchers in 2015).  His main problems are that he walks very little and would be a below-average defensive center fielder at the major league level.  He’s another guy who might be good enough to make some real money in Asia one day.

Ty Young (23).  A player who was apparently dropped from the Rays organization by his defensive failings, Young hit .265 with a .783 OPS in 2015.

Frontier League

What struck me about the Frontier League stars this year is how not young they were.  The Frontier League is the lowest of the established Independent-A Leagues, and its rosters tend to be stocked with a lot of 22 and 23 year old undrafted former college players, so I was definitely surprised I didn’t find more promising players there this year.

Jose Barraza (21).  As a 20 year old catcher/1Bman, Barraza hit .294 with a .783 OPS.  The White Sox drafted Barraza in the 7th round out of high school, and he hit .287 with an .818 OPS in the Arizona Rookie League at age 19.  Hard to understand why the White Sox released him (and no one else picked him up), unless he has some personality problems.

Cody Livesay (22).  A young center fielder whose release by the Braves organization seems strange (he had a .362 on-base percentage in 117 games in the low minors through age 20), Livesay batted .308 with a .388 OBP in 2015.

Boo Vazquez (23) and Kyle Ruchim (23).  A couple of the undrafted college players I was talking about, Vazquez hit .287 with an .865 OPS but played in only 41 games, while Ruchim hit .304 with an .825 OPS.

Andrew Brockett (23), Lucas Laster (23) and Trevor Richards (23).  Brockett was released by the Royals organization after two seasons in which he combined for a 2.19 ERA with 46 Ks in 49.1 IP.  As the Frontier League’s top closer in 2015, he had a 1.54 ERA with 28 Ks in 35 IP.  Laster had a 3.81 ERA with 74 Ks in 78 IP, while Richards had a 3.36 ERA with 84 Ks in 91 IP.

Connor Little (25).  Little had a terrific season in relief, posting a 1.19 ERA with a pitching line of 68 IP, 41 hits and 14 walks allowed and 90 Ks.  He did it against inferior competition, but even so his numbers really do jump out at you.

Late February Free Association

February 25, 2016

I got to thinking about Connie Johnson today.  He’s one of my favorite players of all time.  His career was one great frustrations and at least a couple of great triumphs.

He was a Negro League player, who was not one of the most elite black players of his era.  He might have been, but he lost his age 20-22 seasons (he joined the Negro Leagues at age 17) to WWII, and then appears to have lost much of 1947-1950 to injuries.

He was one of the youngest players to play in the Negro League All-Star Game, and he was part of one of the great Negro League pitching rotations for the 1942 Kansas City Monarchs.

He then joined Organized (White) Baseball in 1951 at age 28 in a Class-C League, and by the time he had worked his way up the majors, he was over 30.  He had one really fine major league season in 1957 at age 34 when he went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA and finishing 8th in wins and 9th in ERA, but 4th in innings pitched (242), 3rd in strikeouts (177) and 2nd in K/BB ratio.  He pitched three shut-outs that season.

It must have been awfully gratifying for Johnson, after having lost three seasons to war and having been barred from MLB for the prime years of his career, to have had that one big season when he proved he could be an elite pitcher at the very highest level of competition.

I first became aware of Johnson because I collected baseball cards as a kid.  I never actually had a Connie Johnson baseball card, but I had an unusually large number of 1958 cards, which had the 1957 season stats on the back.  One of my teenage hobbies was trying to put together all-star teams out the baseball cards I had, by the season on the back of the cards.  I had a lot of 1958 and 1964 cards, so my 1957 and 1963 season teams were really good.

I had a McMillan Baseball Encyclopedia, and I would look to find the best seasons by players whose cards weren’t worth much, in the anticipation that I would one day add those particular cards to my collection, which I didn’t actually do (some of them, anyway) until about 20 years later.

Connie Johnson’s 1957 season was his one great season, and the more I found out about him, the more interested I became, in part because I’d never heard anything about him before I discovered his 1957 season in the context of his MLB career.

The photographs of Johnson on his baseball cards and also on the internet suggest that he was big yet kindly looking man whose face suggested that he’d been through a lot by the time he was 34.

The one player from my tremendous 1963 team, a team on which Bill Maloney is only on the cusp of making the pitching staff, worth mentioning here is Bill Daily.  Daily had one extraordinary season at age 28 when he had a 1.99 ERA with equally fantastic ratios and finished tied for 3rd in the Junior Circuit with 21 saves, while pitching more than 100 innings.

No one except stat junkies like me remember Daily in part because he pitched for the Twins in their early Minnesota years before they went to the World Series in 1965, when they were truly on the edge of the MLB universe.  Daily blew out his arm in 1964 at age 29 and didn’t pitch professionally after that season.  However, he finished his professional baseball career with a .617 winning percentage (108-67), suggesting his one great season was not entirely a fluke.

What is the Magic Word?

February 18, 2016

I was watching the boob-tube a few minutes ago, an interview of Buck O’Neil regarding the old Negro Leagues, and there was a blurb about him getting thrown out of a game by the umpire.  They then cut to an interview with the actual umpire, who said that he had ejected O’Neil because O’Neil had said the “magic word.”

I’ve wondered what the magic word is for some years.  I’ve long thought that the magic word, based on my extensive readings on baseball history, was “c***s***er,” although “m*****f***er” and “a**h**e” would also due the trick.  (If you can’t figure out what the actual words are from my redactions, you probably aren’t old enough to be reading this post in the first place.)

It turns out that there are a surprising number of internet posts on this not-so-weighty topic.  In the modern game, there is a strong argument to be made that that the magic word is “you,” as in “you [epithet of your choosing].”  Reportedly, aspiring umpires are trained in at least some places to allow managers and players to vent about calls they don’t like, but that as soon as the comments are directed toward the umpire personally rather than at the call, it’s time for the thumb.

This makes a lot of sense, as it is a bright line rule that is easy for the umpire to apply and for the player/manager in question to understand.  To any arbiter in a court of law or on a playing field, a relatively simple rule that is easy to apply and easy to understand is going to be preferable to a rule that is highly nuanced, in most circumstances.

Now that the instant replay regime is in effect, it would be interesting to know if ejections have dropped precipitously.  If the play can be challenged by instant replay, the need to vent is almost eliminated, since little is gained by it, compared to simply buying time in discussion with the umpire so that the replay guys can advise whether to make a challenge.

I would thus expect that, except for ejections resulting from hit batsmen, the number of ejections has plummeted.  On the other hand, ejections will never disappear completely because batters and catchers/pitchers cannot challenge ball-strike calls by replay.  If an umpire is calling a poor or inconsistent strike zone, players/managers will squawk, particularly if the bad/inconsistent call results in a key strikeout, walk, hit or home run.

Players/managers hate inconsistent strike zones much more than umpire strike zones that do not comply with the rules.  If an umpire calls his own peculiar strike zone consistently, then pitchers and hitters know what to expect and can make the necessary adjustments, since within a full season in a league, the players are all familiar with each umpire’s strike zone.  The only time you hear complaints about these strike zones are typically from pitchers who live on pitches thrown an inch or two of the outside corner but right at the catcher’s target, when the umpire calls a to-the-rule or tighter strike zone.

No News is No News

February 14, 2016

mlb.com ran an article today saying that the Madison Bumgarner has been tabbed for his third consecutive opening day start in 2016.  Tomorrow mlb.com will be running an article that the sun will be rising on Opening Day.

In fairness to mlb.com, this kind of news has been reported just about as long as baseball has been Americas’s most popular team sport.  Just because baseball is no longer America’s top team sport doesn’t mean we aren’t going to be treated to the same non-news that early February’s have brought since probably the 1880’s.  When the weather is still cold (and it typically isn’t in San Francisco in the first half of February – we get a false Spring almost like clockwork this time every year), even nonsense about the upcoming baseball season surely brings thoughts of summer to cold hearts and spirits everywhere.

On the subject of the upcoming baseball season, I kind of wonder if mlb will ever adopt the major Asian leagues’ approach to Spring training, which begins about a month sooner than our Spring Training begins.  In 2016, MLB is a business where the players are paid enormous sums of money to be the very best in the world (as opposed to being played a hell of lot less to be the very best in the world before the late 1960’s and the advent of the players’ union).  The players are all training year ’round now — at least the smart ones are — so why not start Spring Training even earlier?

The reasons why not are fairly obvious.  Players since 1946 have been paid for Spring Training, and since the advent of the union around 1966, the amounts they get paid for this training has risen steeply.  Teams have no interest in extending Spring Training and playing players for time worked that doesn’t earn significant revenues of the teams any longer than absolutely necessary than it takes to get the players ready for the games that really count and for which the teams receive regular season ticket prices and television revenues.

When I was a kid, Spring Training started pretty religiously on March 1st.  At least, that is the way I remember it.  Now, pitchers and catchers start reporting at last a week earlier than that, mainly because it is believed pitchers’ arms take more time to limber up than than hitters’ backs.  You can’t have pitchers without someone to catch them, thus the earlier reporting dates for catchers.

In an ideal world in which money isn’t an issue, it would make sense for teams provide facilities for players to train voluntarily with the assistance of coaches, training and medical staff sometime shortly after the first of the year.  With every player getting, at a minimum, all od November and December off to rest aches and pains, spend time with family and visit warm vacation destinations, it seems like that by January 16th at the latest, it would be time for many of them to converge on Florida or Arizona to start training for the upcoming season.

Before the official start of Spring Training in late February, this training would have to be entirely voluntary and effectively controlled by the players who elect to participate.  Many players live in Florida and Arizona in the off-season already, and perhaps something like this is already happening, although as far as I am aware, the players are the ones organizing any communal work-outs and paying people (or recruiting local college and junior college players who will work for free or almost free in order train with MLB players), as needed, to assist them in training.

The reason why this isn’t likely to happen are two-fold.  The teams would have to pay coaching, training, and medical staffs more money; and the players’ union would be reluctant to have players do anything without being paid something for it.  “Voluntary” training would almost immediately become de facto mandatory training, since marginal players would not want to be seen as electing not to be committing all to their effort of getting ready for the next season.  Even a collective bargaining agreement provision stating that players would not be discriminated against for electing not to participate, would be difficult to enforce with respect to bubble players who might or might not reasonably make the team out Spring Training.

Since I don’t know exactly what facilities teams pr0vide players, if any, for training during the off-season, I invite anyone’s comment who knows more about the subject than I do.

MLB Suspends Jenrry Mejia for Life

February 13, 2016

In news that can only be described as shocking, MLB has suspended former Mets pitcher Jenrry Mejia for life after a third positive test for steroids.  This third positive comes while Mejia was still serving a 162 game ban for his second positive test. He had signed a $2.47 million contract with the Mets for 2016, although he wouldn’t have been paid for the remaining 99 games lost to positive test No. 2.

I’d sure like to learn more about what happened, because it’s extremely hard to understand how a player could get caught a third time doing something for which the consequences are so severe.  The only two things I can be relatively confident in thinking are that Mejia was absolutely convinced he couldn’t be a major league pitcher without PEDs, and he’s either not too bright or lives in a world of incredible denial.

According to ESPN, Mejia won’t be able to play in Japan, South Korea or Mexico either, although he may still be able to play in the Dominican Winter League.  He can apply for reinstatement in one year, but at a minimum must serve a suspension of at least two full seasons.  Mejia is only 26, and MLB teams are always looking for pitching, so it is possible that Mejia can come back in 2018, but who knows what his talent level will be like playing only winter league ball in the interim.

At least it shows that the testing system is working, and flagrant violators will have to pay some pretty serious professional consequences.  The more sophisticated PEDs cheats are probably still getting away with it.  However, they have to be very, very careful about what and how much they take, which may well defeat the purpose of taking PEDs in the first place.

In the case of Alex Rodriguez, he never had a positive test, but got caught when the news leaked out from other sources.  Assuming that he was no longer taking PEDs when he returned in 2015 after his year long suspension, which is a big assumption in ARod’s case, then it sure doesn’t look like the PEDs he got from Biogenesis America really helped all that much, at least based on his statistical performances.  He may have needed rest and surgery more than the ‘roids.

Brandon Belt and the Giants Settle Arbitration Case

February 11, 2016

The San Francisco Giants settled Brandon Belt‘s pending arbitration case for $6.2 million for the 2016 season.  Belt had asked for $7.5 million in arbitration, the Giants had countered with $5.3 million, so the settlement can be seen as something of a win for the team, since the final amount was $200,000 less than the mid-point.

As a fan, I’m glad the parties settled.  The Giants like Belt, and I have little doubt but that Belt enjoys playing for the Giants.  I think Belt is reasonably worth the $7.5 million he and his agents asked for, but the arbitration system wasn’t likely to take into account fully his 1B defense or the fact that AT&T Park is an extremely tough home park for a left-handed hitter with Belt’s power level.

mlbtraderumors.com predicted that Belt would get the $6.2 million he will ultimately receive, and it’s quite possible that this prediction factored into the settlement, although I also think that Belt and the Giants both wanted an agreement that saved enough face all the way around.

As I like to say, Belt won’t be going to bed hungry any time soon, even if he accepted $200K less than the mid-point.  I’d like to see the Giants sign Belt to a longer term deal, but the team may feel like they want to see another good season from Brandon after having been hurt in 2014.  This may back-fire on the Gints, because if Belt performs well in 2016, he will cost the team a lot more for a longer term deal than he would have had they given him the multi-year deal this off-season, not least of all because Giants fans will want the team to lock in Belt as they did the other Brandon.

The file-and-trial teams, i.e., those teams that refuse to negotiate a one-year contract after arbitration figures are exchanged, have not been having a good off-season.  Players are ahead 3-1 in the arbitration decisions that have been rendered to date, and the owners lone win saved the team only $250,000.

The baloney you hear reported on behalf of teams is that some teams feel the reason for the file-and-trial position is the need to hold the line on arbitration amounts because compromises now become precedents for future years’ arbitration cases.  That reasoning only works if teams win the vast majority of arbitration decisions.  If the players win a majority of the decisions, as they have so far this year, then the clearly higher amounts awarded become the future precedents teams are allegedly trying to avoid.

I can understand the idea that the file-and-trial teams think that by taking this position as a negotiating tactic, more players will elect to settle for smaller amounts than risk going to trial.  However, I don’t think it’s a wise or ultimately successful negotiating strategy, because it gives the team fewer rather than more options.

Agents representing players playing for file-and-trial teams will simply adjust slightly downward the player’s ask when arbitration figures are exchanged, since they know the team won’t negotiate a one-year deal after the exchange.  That means the player has a better chance of winning the arbitration hearing and thus getting a better contract ultimately than from a compromise contract after a higher ask.

Some trial-and-file teams like the Blue Jays with Josh Donaldson get around their dumb position by entering into a two-year contract with the player.  I don’t see how the team is better off doing so.

Donaldson will receive $11.65 million in 2016, which is more than the mid-point of the arbitration figures exchanged, and $17 million in 2017, which is a bargain for the Jays only if Donaldson has another MVP-caliber season in 2016, no sure thing simply as a matter of the law of averages.  Meanwhile, the Jays don’t get any of Donaldson’s free agent seasons.

Given Donaldson’s age, the deal makes a certain amount of sense for the Jays.  However, the team sure better hope Donaldson stays healthy in 2016 and 2017.